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Hounding-Up Pasta Al Forno

  • c

I never heard back yesterday on my baked penne question, so I thought I'd try another way. I'm going to mix slightly under-done penne, bechamel, pecorino, and blanched broccoli in a casserole, bake until bubbly, then uncover top with bread crumbs and bake until brown. The question is....

How can I make this more hound-y. Right now it sounds pretty boring to me. I don't have a lot of experience with cream sauces so I'm not sure what to add to make it really pop. Any tips would be much appreciated.

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  1. Personally I add cinnamon and vodka when making my al forno sauce...really adds an unexpected dimension to the dish.

    1. How about rather than blanched broccoli use shredded roasted brussel sprouts? Pine nuts, pancetta. Add a little nutmeg to the bechamel. Leave the bechamel slightly runny because it'll thicken. You could use panko instead of bread crumbs for a lighter topping. But, if you use bread crumbs, mix it with butter at least. But, honestly, sometimes boring is great.

      3 Replies
      1. re: chowser

        I agree that the pancetta would be a nice addition - or just bacon if you don't have pancetta handy.

        1. re: chowser

          The trouble is I've already got the broccoli, really great broccoli from my CSA, perhaps I could roast the broccoli instead of blanching it.

          1. re: China

            I would fear that if you roast it first, the broccoli will certainly have more flavor but could be over-cooked when baked again in the casserole. If you only partially roast you wouldn't be doing much more flavor-wise than blanching.

        2. I should have said in advance that got some vegetarians to work around. What about some reconstituted porcini's or a little roasted garlic?

          2 Replies
          1. re: China

            I would definitely add garlic... I thought that went without saying so I didn't respond earlier!!

            1. re: China

              I'm always up for adding mushrooms to just about anything so porcinis, baby bellas, whatever, go for it. Definitely would add some thyme too - I love thyme with mushrooms and also broccoli. Actually, I guess I feel about thyme the way I feel about mushrooms - always good.

            2. I would vote for pancetta and/or porcinis. If you do add pancetta, make sure you saute it first.

              I would also consider adding caramelized onions.

              1. Add some diced prosciutto (6-8 oz per quart of bechamel/pound of pasta) and freshly grated nutmeg to the bechamel. The penne (rigata)should be no more than half cooked before you put it into the oven. Remember, it's going to cook for another 25 minutes or so.

                I'd serve the broccoli as a side rather than incorporating it into the dish.